So, you want to be able to bring your dog anywhere you go? How about even places dogs aren't allowed?
image by @voyagewilder (service dog at mount rushmore)
To put it simply…TOO BAD. Being a Service Dog handler is a privilege and a right earned by those of us that unfortunately have to struggle with a disability; whether it be physical, mental, or both. Remember, not all disabilities are visible, but faking one is a federal crime. This isn’t about why you shouldn’t fake having a Service Dog (though you really shouldn’t) or even why people without disabilities don’t need them (that one should be obvious). This is about how you can GET a Service Dog when you don’t need one. Whaaaaaat? Stay with me.
First, let’s make sure you understand what a disability is. Having mild anxiety and your dog giving you comfort doesn't qualify as 1. a disability and 2. a Service Dog task, no matter how badly you want it to. I am sorry that you can’t have a Service Dog, but you shouldn’t be, trust me. A disability is a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits ability to engage in certain tasks, actions, or daily life and activities. (Source: Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary) This isn’t to get deep into disabilities, but you need to understand the difference between having anxiety or an ache in your knee and having a disability. A disability will be different with every person too and they come in many packages. No one person's disability will be the same as another's, so it’s best (and the most legal way) to be properly diagnosed by a doctor. Not every disability requires a Service Dog and not everyone with a disability will benefit from a Service Dog. Many factors go into it all. Being a Service Dog handler comes with a ton of responsibility as well, along with needing to educate yourself on the Service Dog and ADA laws.
Here’s how you can get a Service Dog without needing one…
TRAIN. YOUR. DOG. I know, it sounds too easy, but it’s true. Now, let’s make one thing clear, you can’t ever call your dog a Service Dog and your dog would not have public access rights, but there’s nothing stopping you from training your dog the same way someone would train a Service Dog, and in fact, most of us would encourage it! Why would this benefit you? Well, not only would certain tasks like retrievals be a useful trick for them to learn in case you leave the remote across the room, but they also make for great party tricks to impress your friends and family. The intense training also leaves you with a well trained dog that is able to attend dog friendly events, restaurants, and shops without embarrassing you, leaving you with positive experiences all around! Deep Pressure Therapy, whether you require it or not, is also a great tool to use when unwinding after a long, stressful day and your dog can enjoy the close time too!
If you’re thinking “Okay, but how do I bring my dog everywhere with me? You said I could have a Service Dog, what the heck?” then I apologize, but I lied, sort of. A Service Dog is a title earned by dogs individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability, but you can still have a dog that is trained just as well as a Service Dog for yourself. Unfortunately, you will never have the benefits of taking your dog literally everywhere you go unless you plan to break federal law, but once you accept you don’t need that (and really, neither does your dog), you can focus on at least having yourself a well trained dog that impresses everyone they meet! If your dog does well with that and you can’t help but think, man…they would make a great, legitimate Service Dog if I needed one, then maybe look into Therapy work (again, they don’t have public access, but would be a way to use that training for good)!
Above all else, be sure you’re following the law. Strut up and down the aisles of the pet friendly stores and show off how impressive your dog is, but know your place and your dog’s true roll as just your pet, Therapy Dog, or even your Emotional Support Animal, which does NOT have rights to public access or non-pet friendly places. The training can be intense, but if you’re up for it, then the bond you form with your dog is unbreakable and you’ll have yourself the perfect pooch. While you will never be able to call yourself a Service Dog handler or your dog a Service Dog, feel lucky in the fact you don’t require one and enjoy your life with your pampered, well trained dog. “Service Dog” training is just heavy obedience training with added tricks (tasks), so you’re not breaking any laws in following along with a Service Dog training course or methods, you only break the law when you call your dog a Service Dog, try to pass them off as a Service Dog, bring them into non-pet friendly areas, or label them on a vest, bandana, collar, or leash as a Service Dog. There’s no law against having a good dog and the rest of the world will be appreciative of your well mannered pooch!
— The Wayfinder
featured image by @voyagewilder